Harmon Foundation film “The Negro and Art”

This week’s post is by Carrie Goeringer. Carrie came to the National Archives in 2000 to work in NARA’s Cartographic Branch, and since 2003, has worked as an archivist with NARA’s Motion Picture Branch. Before coming to NARA, Carrie worked for the Oklahoma Historical Society Photographic Archives for 8 years. She has a BA in Photography and MA in American History. 

In a previous post, I talked about the Harmon Foundation film “We Are All Artists.” The 1936 film showed the Foundation’s belief that “modern” design and the use of classic artistic composition theory had improved upon the cluttered design of the late 19th century.

An earlier Harmon Foundation film, “The Negro in Art“, highlights the work for which the New York City-based Harmon Foundation was probably best known—the promotion of African American art, especially during the years known as the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1926, William Harmon established the William E. Harmon Foundation award which awarded monetary prizes for individuals who contributed to African American achievement in literature, music, fine arts, business and industry, science and innovation, education, religious service and race relations. Awards were given between 1926-1933, and recipients included Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Laura Wheeler Waring. 

The Foundation also promoted the work of African American visual artists working in painting, sculpture and other media. Beginning in 1929, the Foundation sponsored juried exhibitions and traveling exhibitions to highlight the works of African American artists.

The Negro and Art” documents the Harmon Foundation’s Fifth Exhibition of Negro Art, held at the Art Center, 65-67 East 56th Street, in New York City, from February 20 to March 4, 1933.

The production file for the film notes that the film “opens with the arrival of visitors at the exhibition and follows these guests through the galleries, showing the variety in subject and medium of the work displayed… Techniques range from classical to abstractionist, with all styles in between…the film review of an exhibition which the Harmon Foundation believes will be remembered as marking the emergence of a new trend in American Art.”

The production file notes music cues which could be used for the silent film, such as “Le Cid” by Massenet for the first two minutes of the film.

The Harmon Foundation had discovered a distinct need between the growing activity in self expression among African American artists during 1930s and 1940s and a demand among the public to know about their art. While the Foundation came under criticism, many of the exhibiting artists were and became accomplished artists and art educators, including Richmond Barthé and William E. Artis, two artists featured in the 1933 exhibition and “The Negro and Art.”

Richmond Barthé, sculpturing, NAID: 559178 / Local Identifier: H-HNE-20-14
William E. Artis, sculpturing, NAID: 559176 / Local Identifier: H-HNE-20-7

While the 1933 juried exhibition featured in “The Negro and Art” would also be its last, the Foundation continued to hold workshops, exhibits and demonstrations, which continued in the 1940s.

Photographs of these events, like this one from an exhibit in Baltimore, can be found in a corresponding Harmon Foundation Collection in the Still Picture Branch at NARA, Negro Art Exhibits, Workshops, and Demonstrations, compiled 1935-1947 .

Baltimore exhibit, NAID: 559168 / Local Identifier: H-HNE-3-9